Ignorance can be deadly. Literally.
From the blog of Dr. Satoshi Mori, Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Professor Mori cites a message from one of his readers who is a charcoal producer (8/2/2011):
"I want to tell you how some European countries have been disposing the trees that were contaminated by the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident 25 years ago. Japanese timber trading companies started to buy Norway Spruce [Picea abies, also commonly called European Spruce]- "whitewood" - from Germany, Finland, and Sweden in great quantities, and the import continues to this day.
"Compared to Japanese Cedar, Norway Spruce has less knots, whiter color-tone, and best of all it is cheaper than Japanese Ceder. It has been very popular with the Japanese homebuilders and sold in large quantities at home centers. We don't see the timber from Germany any more these days, maybe they finished cutting down all the affected trees. Red Pine from Russia is still used as rafters for the apartment buildings.
"In other words, [these countries] have successfully disposed the trees contaminated with radiation by sending them to a far away country [Japan]. And we didn't know it in Japan. Our ignorance is the problem."
This is the email I just received from a charcoal producer. Isn't it amazing?
Amazing is an understatement. I don't know whether Japan has been their exclusive export market for the affected trees or not. Probably not. I also don't know whether the level of radioactive materials in the wood is anything significant. But from the charcoal producer's email, the heavy import of the timber from these countries started at a particular point in time, 1991.
The Japanese government was quite anxious to suppress any negative attitude toward nuclear energy among the populace after the Chernobyl accident, and embarked on the PR campaign selling the safety of nuclear energy. It was very successful in doing so. Many people in Japan may have heard about Chernobyl when the accident happened, but were totally unaware of the radiation contamination that spread far and wide. The accident was in some remote area in the Soviet Union and didn't affect Japan in any significant way, they thought.
For example, in 1991 (what a coincidence), the government, through the Science and Technology Agency (now part of Ministry of Education and Science), created an instruction manual on how to counter the Chernobyl accident and further promote nuclear power among Japanese (the link is in Japanese), who may have become skeptical of nuclear energy after the accident. The manual details the specific approaches for specific target groups - housewives, fathers, school children, media, etc.
If this timber import to Japan from the affected areas in Europe is true, it could well be under the "guidance" from the Japanese government. "Let's help out these countries, and we get the cheap lumber. Radiation? It's so minute it won't affect health. Just don't tell people." Something like that, maybe. Just substitute "countries" with "prefectures", "lumber" with "vegetables, meat, fish", then you may see that's more or less what the Japanese government has been doing since March 11.
Dr. Mori was one of the very first researchers to raise the danger of radioactive strontium in the soil, early on in the Fukushima nuke accident.